[Update – June 17, 1998: I get weekly messages about this article from GO INSIDE Magazine readers who continue to confirm my experience with the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens despite what, I am told, is the hotel’s occasional claim over the phone that the “UCLA suites” have been remodeled and that my article is “out of date.” However, other readers report that the hotel confesses the “UCLA suites” have “not yet been remodeled” when confronted with the experiences I report in this article when they attempt to make a room reservation. I recently called the hotel and posed as a prospective guest. Without identifying myself, I casually mentioned this article and I asked if the “UCLA suites” description was accurate? I was told that those rooms have “yet to be remodeled.” All I can say is “Buyer Beware!” since the veracity of the situation appears to spin on who answers the phone at the hotel’s reception desk. I’ll continue to update this article as necessary.]
[Update – May 17, 1999: We now have word from Go Inside readers that the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens are selling their “UCLA Rooms” at online travel and auction houses like http://www.priceline.com but not disclosing online that the rooms are not Four Star suites like the others in the Hotel & Gardens so you think you’re getting a great deal when you’re really not. After reading this article, one reader who had already purchased a room via priceline.com, called the Westwood Marquis and discovered, to his dismay, that “they have some older suites they sell exclusively thru discount outlets like Priceline.” So, dear reader, Beware! Investigate deeply before you toss over your credit card!]
Original Publication: May 21, 1997
I recently had a stay I’ll never forget at the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens in West Los Angeles on Hilgard Avenue. The hotel has the reputation of being one of the most expensive and enchanting experiences you can have while staying overnight in Los Angeles. I was stung by the promise of living the high life without having to pay the millionaire’s way. My stay at the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens was a purgatory I shall not soon forget — three days and two nights in an ivy-covered-death-dungeon-with-a-pool-view is the stuffs of which nightmares are made!
UCLA Comes Calling
It all started innocently enough. UCLA flew me out to the sunny left coast from New York City for a job interview. UCLA paid my way to Los Angeles and told me they’d “put me up” at the exclusive Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens as an added incentive to make the cross country flight. Being in the Film and Television field, and familiar with the perks and pinnacles of Los Angeles, I knew the Westwood Marquis Hotel and Gardens was a $350 a night binge. I admit I was eager with anticipation at the thought of staying in the famous Hotel & Gardens only footsteps away from the pristine UCLA campus.
That Down Home Swampy Smell
When I arrived in my Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens “suite” I was overwhelmed by the smell of rotten eggs. Dust covered the window sills. The carpeting was threadbare. The furniture was mis-matched, scarred, lumpy, and ugly. The color scheme of the room was — get this — a swampy green carpeting and dingy, garnet colored walls. The room screamed 1950s ugly! The room wasn’t worth $34.95 a night let alone $350!
The smell was so overwhelmingly putrid that I knew I couldn’t stay in the room, let alone begin to unpack. I picked up the sticky telephone receiver and dialed the front desk. I told them my room smelled like a decomposing corpse and that I needed to move. They apologized profusely and told me that they would have a new suite ready for me within minutes.
As I waited for the Bellboy (and he looked to be almost all of 14 years) to move me to another room, I looked out the grimy picture window of my picaresque “suite” and saw a glimmering pool below me surrounded by shimmering gardens and a spacious and lovely cabana bar. I realized that this scene of me peering out the window is a perfect analogy for life in Los Angeles — rotten and smelly on the inside, sunny and glistening on the outside.
Those that Glisten
As the Bellboy loaded my bags onto his shoulders, I couldn’t stop wondering at the other magnificent suites I passed by on the way to the elevator. As the Maids did their duty with the suite doors held yawning by their cleaning carts, I caught a look into the suite manna that I had previously believed the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens to be all over: Shining Oases of Tranquility and Style.
I saw glittering wallpaper, thick carpeting, glowing color schemes and furniture that was hardy, clean and rather sleek in suite after suite! I was awestruck that my room had been so old and ugly! Why had the Westwood Marquis stuck me with the Outhouse Suite in their Hotel & Gardens? My old peasant paranoia rose as the elevator lifted us to the next level. I fantasized that somehow the snobby desk clerk knew that I’d been born in Nebraska — flyover country — and that I not only wouldn’t mind such a shabby suite, I deserved it!
Grazing back to reality, my heart beat faster as I imagined the aesthetic delights awaiting me in my new suite at the Hotel & Gardens compliments of the University of California at Los Angeles! When the Bellboy let me in to the “suite” furthest down the hall — I was dumbstruck.
The Suite From 1963
This new suite, while not quite as shabby nor as smelly as the first one, did not glimmer or shine or even beg to be loved. The suite was musty. The color scheme was inverse from the first — swampy colored walls and threadbare garnet carpeting. The furniture was frumpy. Any and all exposed wood in the room was either scratched or dinged. Not a pretty nor inspiring site.
As I drank in my new surroundings, the Bellboy stood there, saying nothing, expecting another tip for the one flight room change. I pulled up the cushion on the small sofa and saw Made just for you in 1963 stitched with pride on the merchant’s tag. I went to the window, peered down on the flickering swimming pool below, and sighed, “At least this one doesn’t smell like a dead skunk.”
When the Bellboy laughed, I took his interest, and twisted back upon him. “I’ll double your tip,” I said, “if you’ll tell me what’s going on here. Why do I keep getting these crummy rooms for $35.00 a night?”
The Bellboy approached me with his palm up. It glistened with sweaty anticipation. Quietly, he spoke as he walked to me across the thin carpeting. “These are the UCLA suites. They’re $150.00 a night.”
Ah. Now I knew. The red hot piercing poker of instant understanding burned its way across my mind: These were the cheap seats. These “UCLA Suites” were the rooms abandoned in time by the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens — marked down forever by bad taste and mildew in the name of a price break for the University. I suppose there some pleasure in knowing that even the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens has a Bowery — a Bowery of its own creation.
“What do you expect for $150.00 a night in West Los Angeles,” I sheepishly asked myself, “A gorgeous room and a good time?”
As the Bellboy came to a stop before me, I floated a twenty into his palm. He crumpled the bill into his fist, turn on his heel, and disappeared as he slammed the door behind him.
Room Service? BWA-HA-HAAA!
Well, if the room wasn’t what I expected, perhaps the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens food would fill up my expectation? I checked the Room Service menu and decided on the lemon chicken.
When I tried to order the lemon chicken, I was told they didn’t have lemon chicken. Okay. I ordered the homemade chicken pot pie instead. The guy taking my order laughed — they didn’t have that, either! I tried to get them to bring me pork chops, then spaghetti, then potato cheese soup. Nope. Can’t. Don’t have it. The guy on the phone explained to me that they haven’t had any of those items on their Room Service menu in the 10 years he’d been working in the kitchen!
Another red hot poker stung me in the eye as I examined the rest of the menu and realized that no one who’d stayed in this ancient and smelly room had ever bothered to order Room Service. It was also obvious that the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens hadn’t bothered to update the menu in this suite, either! I finally asked the guy taking my order what they did have and he told me the salmon and house salad were good. I told him to send them up along with a giant pot of coffee.
A Kingly Meal
50 minutes later, my meal arrived. I must confess, it was the most delicious meal I ever had in my life. The salmon was light and tender and it melted in my mouth. The salad was crunchy and awe-inspiring. The coffee was the most aromatic and sensual brew I have ever tasted before or after. Even though I didn’t get to sleep in a famous $350 a night Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens suite, at least I got to experience an incredibly dreamy Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens meal! Food was one delight the slummy suite could not withhold from me. “Let him eat cake” said the room, and eat it, did I!
All throughout my unforgettable meal, the waiter shook his head and sighed repeatedly as he replaced each and every page of the old Room Service menu. It took him twenty minutes to accomplish the renovation. The replacement pages were cheery, colorful and clean — oh, how the room must envy those virgin tastebud delighting pages — no wonder its walls are a constant shade of swampy green!
Couldn’t Stop Cackling
As I relayed this story to the UCLA search committee the next day, they couldn’t stop laughing! One fellow actually cackled! The committee thought it was the funniest thing in the world that UCLA pays $150.00 a night for their fly in guests to sleep in a slum suite at the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens!
One committee woman said I could sleep in her daughter’s room for $75.00 a night and she’d throw in clean sheets and shag carpeting for free! Wails of laughter followed that remark from the rest of the search committee. I had to join them because it was awfully silly to pay so much for so little. Another hotel down the street a few yards from the Westwood Marquis Hotel & Gardens offered luxury rooms for only a hundred dollars a night, another committee member offered, and the others nodded that a change must be made.
Now You Know
I’m certain you have your own hotel horror stories, and I hope you’ll take the time to share them with the other readers of Go Inside magazine. Touch my name at the top of this opinion piece and let me know what you know. Only in the exposure of such experiences can we begin to hope to help others who may wonder if they are alone in the trying times of sleeping in slummy rooms and burying broken dreams.
He Who Laughs Last
There’s a small delight in sharing this story with you and in proving the pen mightier than suite. I felt powerless in Los Angeles while the musty sights and smells of 1963 were falling down around me. Some may refer to this method of commentary an attempt to flex the “Power of the Press” — but I prefer to call this commentary a humble soapbox from which simple truths can be told and the honesty of the story can be denied or welcomed by the eye that brings it home.